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Code Henry

Published [1812]

[1] Loi civile -- [2] Loi de commerce -- [3] Loi sur les prises -- [4] Loi sur la procédure civile -- [5] Loi criminelle, correctionnelle et de police -- [6] Loi sur la procédure criminelle, police correctionnelle, et la simple police -- [7] Loi concernant la culture -- [8] Loi militaire -- [9] Loi pénale militaire

The following description was contributed by Jean Antoine, a librarian at Boston Public Library:

The second decade of the nineteenth century has just begun, and we are in Haiti, the Caribbean country that has just proclaimed its independence from France. The alliance between the former African slaves and the mulattoes that led to that “never happened before” epic has collapsed. Thus, two years after the proclamation of independence, the country was already on the verge of civil war and divided between two opposing governments: one in the southern and western regions, presided over by Alexandre Petion; the other established in the northern parts under the leadership of Henry Christophe, who proclaimed himself king and in so doing created the Kingdom of Haiti.

Attracted by the British system and trying to shape his administration according to that model, Christophe, despite governing his fellow citizens with a strong hand, proved himself to be a skilled and methodical administrator with an almost neurotic sense of pride, taking the challenges as a new leader seriously and trying to build a respected kingdom. Those inherent attributes explained the discipline expected not only from his army and his Privy Council, but also from the citizenry. The fortresses he built to defend the country from a possible return of the French army and the laws and ordinances he promulgated confirmed his success in obtaining that discipline.

In 1812, after only five years of government, laws and ordinances relating to all governmental institutions of the kingdom were collected by the Privy Council and upon Christophe’s approval published in a compendium called the “Code Henry”[1]. Today, this publication has become an item of great interest among historians and researchers, and of incalculable historical value and extreme rarity.

IN 1972, the National Union Catalog pre-1956 Imprints[2] mentioned only one library that held a copy -- the New York Public Library. Searching the NYPL’s online catalog we could not locate the copy; nor could a librarian at that institution with whom we had an online conversation.

Max Bissainthe, formerly of Haïti’s national library, in his Dictionnaire de Bibliographie Haïtienne published in 1851[3], mentioned three copies found in the following libraries:

- the Bibliothèque Nationale d’Haïti, since lost;

- the British Library although Bissainthe were unable to find it[4]; and

- the Boston Public Library

Asking for a confirmation of the British Library’s holding, we were told by a librarian at that institution that it was missing.

The Boston Public Library just digitized its copy of the Code Henry and has published it in DjVu, PDF , B/W PDF, and TXT formats, an initiative that will certainly delight historians, law students and researchers specializing in Haitian studies.

The Boston Public Library can be proud to claim that it is the only library in the world that owns this historical treasure, as well as other important documents on Haitian history, from the early period through the nineteenth century. Some of these manuscripts bear the signatures of the country’s first rulers.

[1]Madiou, Thomas. Histoire d’Haïti. Tome V: 1811-1818. (Port-au-Prince : Editions Henri Deschamps, 1988); 62-63. Christophe, who was born on the British island of Grenada, was an anglophile and continued to use the English spelling of his given name.

[2]National Union Catalog pre-1956 Imprints. Vol. 226. (London : Mansell, 1972); p. 404.

[3]Bissainthe, Max. Dictionnaire de Bibliographie Haïtienne. (Washington, D.C. : Scarecrow Press, 1951); §808.

[4]The bibliographer stated to have “vainement cherché” (looked unsuccessfully for) the item (Loc. Cit.). Besides, the curators of the Canadian and Caribbean Collections and the Department of Manuscripts at the British Library could not find the Code. According to the latter, "There is the possibility that the Code is just one part of a larger manuscript relating to Haiti but … was not indexed. However, [He found] this possibility unlikely. Something as important as the Code would have been indexed separately if we had it." St John-McAlister, Michael. "Regarding the Code Henry." E-mail to Jean Antoine: Mardi 19 June 2007.

Boston Public Library (Rare Book Dept.) copy: ex libris Benjamin P. Hunt

Boston Public Library (Rare Book Dept.) copy: t.p. mutilated. Contains a note by Hunt (?) affecting the coat of arms

Publisher Au Cap-Henry [Haiti] : chez P. Roux, Imprimeur du Roi
Year 1812
Pages 792
Language French
Call number 2824500
Digitizing sponsor Internet Archive
Book contributor Boston Public Library
Collection bostonpubliclibrary; americana
Scanfactors 7

Full catalog record MARCXML

[Open Library icon]This book has an editable web page on Open Library.


Reviewer: FB Regino E. - - December 21, 2007
Subject: Haitian Codes for Researchers: A valuable contribution.
This compilation under an unique volume of these documents related with one of the most interesting period after de Haitian independence (1804), is an important contribution to the researchers on slavery and black subject in the Caribbean. I had been looking for a long time the Haitian legislation under Christophe, then King Henri (1807-1820), and Jean Pierre Boyer rules (1818-1843), and thanks to you they are available to the research community. These documents are highly valuable for my dissertation on slavery in the eastern part of Santo Domingo for the period 1795-1821. You deserve the best of our recognition! Thanks again. Best regards.
Francisco Bernardo Regino E.
Historian Researcher, Ph. D. Candidate Universidad de Sevilla.
Professor Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. (Dec. 2007).
Reviewer: tayina - - July 3, 2007
Subject: Le Code Henry en ligne et premier au hit parade
Le Nouvelliste, 27 juin 2007

Nous avons entrepris en janvier dernier un pèlerinage à Boston, sur les traces du Dr Catts Pressoir. Et nous avons pu retrouver et négocier comme lui pour obtenir une copie du Code Henry. Mais la technologie a changé, et après 6 mois de discussion les autorités de la Boston Public Library (BPL) ont mis en ligne le livre le plus rare de l'histoire d'Haïti. Le mardi 12 juin nous recevions un courriel nous donnant l'URL du Code Henry.

Pour le mois de juin, le Code Henry apparaît en premier au hit parade des téléchargements sur le site de la BPL 42 en moins de 15 jours, devançant largement 4 téléchargements le second ouvrage.

Voyons ce que disait Catts Pressoir :
"Nous avons trouvé à la bibliothèque publique de Boston (Boston Public Library) un exemplaire en parfait état du Code Henry. Nous avons demandé de nous en préparer un microfilm. Le travail a été fait, comme on nous l'avait annoncé, à la bibliothèque de l'Université Harvard, et nous l'avons reçu il y a deux semaines.

Nous l'avions destiné à notre ami Luc Grimard, mais celui-ci a préféré en faire don à la Bibliothèque Nationale de Port-au-Prince, de sorte que nous l'avons remis au directeur de cette institution, M. Max Bissainthe.

Le Code Henry a régi les populations du Nord dès sa publication, en 1812, jusqu'à la mort de Christophe à la fin de l'année 1820. Il a été remplacé pour toute la République par le Code promulgué par les soins de Boyer. Il présente quand même un grand intérêt pour l'historien, le sociologue et le juriste.

La fiche de l'ouvrage se trouve au GENERAL FILE du deuxième étage et l'ouvrage lui-même se trouve au troisième étage dans le RARE BOOKS DEPARTMENT".

C'est donc là, presque comme une icône, que ce livre nous attendait. Comme Catts Pressoir, nous voulons croire que les historiens, les sociologues et les juristes haïtiens en feront un usage précieux, les bibliothèques numériques étant en construction un peu partout de par le monde; c'est en ligne et non à la Bibliothèque nationale de Port-au-Prince qu'ils auront le loisir de le lire.

Ailleurs, d'autres ouvrages sur l'histoire d'Haïti sont consultables en ligne, on peut télécharger sur le site de la Bibliothèque Nationale de France les 11 volumes de l'Étude sur l'histoire d'Haïti de Beaubrun Ardouin, les 6 tomes des Loix et constitutions des colonie françoises... et les Descriptions de Moreau de St-Méry ainsi que "De l'Égalité des races humaines" d'Anténor Firmin.

Patrick D. Tardieu
Reviewer: jfignole - - July 2, 2007
Subject: Code Henri/Haiti
Finding this extremely rare document on-line is one of the most sublime experiences for anyone, from the academic to the layman.

It specially open an important window on Hayti's first rulers who have move from slave or near slave status to head of state.

This rare finding along with it's on-line availability in such an easy format is a major accomplishment.


Jean D. Fignole
Boston Public Library
by Boston (Mass.); Joseph Meredith Toner Collection (Library of Congress) DLC; Samuel Gardner Drake Pamphlet Collection (Library of Congress) DLC
Boston Public Library
by Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907
Boston Public Library
by Baker, William M. (William Mumford), 1825-1883
Boston Public Library
by Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907
Boston Public Library
by Baker, William M. (William Mumford), 1825-1883
Boston Public Library
by Edgarton, Sarah C., ed; Sawyer, Caroline M. (Caroline Mehetabel), 1812-1894, ed
Boston Public Library